by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
One of the unique details in St. Mark’s Passion narrative is found in Chapter 14, Verses 51-52. In verse 50, when the high priest’s soldiers have apprehended Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mark describes the weakness and fear of Our Lord’s disciples with the terse sentence: “All of them deserted him and fled.”
The next two verses provide a curious detail: “A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They (the soldiers) caught hold of him, but then he left the linen cloth and ran off naked.”
Who was this young disciple who literally ran out of his clothes to escape being arrested along with Jesus? A few biblical commentators suggest it might have been Mark himself who exited the Passion narrative nude.
However, most believe it is not referring to any specific disciple, but was actually a literary device Mark used to invite his readers to place themselves in the Passion narrative.
The phrase “following him” makes it clear the young man was a disciple of Jesus. It is odd that the young man is only wearing a white linen cloth. He is not appropriately dressed for the normal weather conditions in Jerusalem at that time of year.
Bishop Robert Barron in the Word on Fire Bible proposes the significance of the Greek word that is used to describe the man’s attire: “The Greek term here is ‘sindona,’ which designates the kind of garment worn in the early church by the newly baptized. The point is this: Following Jesus, being a baptized member of his church, is a dangerous business. Participating in Jesus’ kingdom puts you, necessarily, in harm’s way, for Jesus’ way of ordering things is massively opposed to the world’s way of doing so.”
The original readers of Mark’s Gospel were well aware of how dangerous it was to be a Christian. Like the apostles and Our Lord’s other disciples that accompanied him in the Garden of Gethsemane, many of the early Christians compromised their baptismal identity under the pressure of persecution. Jesus never promised his disciples that following him would be easy. Our Lord did not preach a Prosperity Gospel. Jesus did not attempt to deceive his followers into thinking they would be protected from all adversity.
In fact, Our Lord promised just the opposite. He told his disciples if they wish to follow him, that they must take up their cross. The true disciple of Jesus has to be willing to follow Our Lord all the way to Calvary.
In the Passion narrative, Jesus is accused of claiming to be the king of the Jews. In fact, this allegation was written on the sign that was attached to the wood of the cross above the figure of the crucified Jesus.
Our Lord, however, makes clear to the high priests, Pontius Pilate and his own disciples that his kingship is quite different from the kingship of Herod or Caesar.
Jesus seeks to rule but not with military might. Our Lord does not coerce people to follow him. Instead, Jesus invites us to give him rule of our hearts, while allowing us complete freedom to choose to follow or not follow him.
We live in a time of secularization. Often the values of our culture contradict and oppose the Gospel of Jesus. If we are going to follow Jesus faithfully, we will necessarily find ourselves being countercultural. Christian moral teaching is becoming more and more controversial in our society.
While Jesus does not pretend, much less attempt, to deceive his followers to think the road of discipleship will be easy or problem free, Our Lord does promise us that he will be with us through every trial and adversity.
Jesus also promises mercy to all who seek forgiveness with sincerity of heart. When we deny our baptismal identity as brothers and sisters of Jesus, acting in a way contradictory to Christian moral teaching but in conformity to the popular culture, Jesus does not abandon or desert us.
Through the sacrament of reconciliation, we receive Our Lord’s mercy and the strength to follow Our Lord more closely and carefully. Through that beautiful sacrament, we are able to reclaim and restore our baptismal identity.
In the Chapter 16 of his Gospel, Mark gives his account of the events of Easter. Our Lord’s faithful female disciples come to the tomb early Easter morning to anoint the dead body of Jesus. They are concerned about how they will roll back the huge stone that blocks the entrance into the tomb.
Upon arriving at the tomb, the women are grateful that stone has been rolled away from the entrance. Mark describes their discovery of the empty tomb with these words: “As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them: Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.”
The mysterious white robed young man who announces the Resurrection to the women appears to be the same symbolic figure that fled the Passion naked. He is once again clothed in a white robe, signifying he has reclaimed his baptism. He commissions the women to be heralds of the risen Jesus by going to his disciples and telling them about Our Lord’s resurrection.
Our journey through Holy Week has been an opportunity — not only to recall the historical events that are the foundation of our Christian faith, but also to ponder how we are part of the continuing drama of the unfolding of the risen Lord’s kingdom. We have been invited to engage actively in the battle between the culture of death and culture of life.
Similar to the disciples in the Passion narrative, there are times when we buckle under sin’s allurement, fear of suffering and societal pressure.
Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday remind us that Jesus is always ready to cover the shame of our sin and clothe us again in our baptismal identity as beloved daughters and sons of our heavenly Father.
We, too, despite our weakness, are commissioned, like the first disciples, to be heralds of the truth, beauty, hope and joy of the Gospel of the risen Jesus.